Industry move for pastures program

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

A consortium including growers, breeders, a commercial company and a university has joined forces in an attempt to resurrect the Department of Agriculture and Food's pasture breeding and agronomy program.

DAFWA announced plans to sell the program through a tender process, with the expressions of interest closing on Monday.

According to DAFWA Grains and Livestock executive director Peter Metcalfe, the extension for expressions of interest from October 16 to this Monday was the result of greater than anticipated demand in the program and a significant expansion to the library of pasture genetic and performance data.

"DAFWA has received about 20 requests for the EOI documents from a range of interests, including the research/tertiary sector, industry and collaborations," he said.

DAFWA has confirmed that a number of EOIs have been received, and a selection panel has been formed to review and evaluate the proposals against the selection criteria.

But with the program costing about $600,000 each year to administer, and with the germplasm considered public property, industry spokespeople believe the department has little to on-sell.

_Countryman _ understands the expression of interest submitted by the consortium, loosely named PastureWest, has requested a 12-month period to develop a business plan to take over the program.

PastureWest spokesman Chris Martin said the EOI contained little detail, only requesting further time to allow the industry to develop a path forward for the program.

"We have met with the Department several times over this. We believe there is a strong future in pasture seed development and this group that we have formed is interested in taking on this program and moving the process forward," he said.

"We believe we have now developed a good relationship with DAFWA in terms of keeping this program in industry hands, and we are hopeful for a positive outcome in this process."

Mr Martin said details of the consortium's involvement were yet to be ironed out, including storage of the germplasm, employment of the staff members currently involved in the program, and the housing of the program in the long term.

"We have requested some space for the germplasm to remain at the Department, but those specific and practical details have yet to be sorted out," he said.

"At the moment the program costs around $600,000 to administer, and we believe there are opportunities to reduce this somewhat."

But Mr Martin conceded long-term funding was yet to be secured.

"We need to source funding for the long-term survival of the project … this funding is … yet to be bedded down," he said.

Mr Metcalf said DAFWA's current pasture breeding and agronomy program had an international reputation for pasture science excellence and had produced a wide range of pasture types and varieties.

"It is currently comprised of 4.2 full-time equivalent employees, has one of the world's largest collections of Mediterranean germplasm from wild types to commercial cultivars, as well as a large library of pasture genetic and performance data and specialised equipment," he said.

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